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New model could give 12 months warning on El Niño

Monday July 8, 2013 - 08:14 EST
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El Nino has been known to cause drought in some parts of Australia, Indonesia, and South America and heavy flooding in places like Peru and Ecuador. - ABC

Scientists hope a new method for forecasting El Niño weather events earlier will help Pacific farmers and fishermen adapt to droughts and floods.

El Niño weather events lead to floods in the eastern Pacific and droughts in the west, severely affecting agriculture and fishing.

El Niños typically happen every two to seven years, but current techniques measuring water temperature only allow scientists to forecast at most six months in advance.

Professor Armin Bunde, from the University of Giessen in Germany, has told their approach is different.

"We do not consider the water temperature, but we consider the atmospheric temperature in all areas of the Pacific Ocean," he said.

"Then we study how the temperatures at different place in the Pacific are linked to each other...so by doing this we find that well before an El Niño event - in the year before - the data connections build up strongly.

"This...we can use to forecast an El Niño event [and] when we do this we find that we succeed in forecasting seven out of ten El Niños, with less than one false alarm in 20 years."

Professor Bunde says the ability to predict El Nino's further in advance allows those most at risk from unusual weather patterns to plan ahead.

"During an El Niño in the west the water gets colder, there's less evaporation and this may lead to droughts," he said.

"In the east where the water gets warmer, this may lead to heavy rainfall and floods.

"Both results - droughts in the west and floods in the east - are bad for agriculture."

"By predicting El Niño events one year in advance, one can help the farmers to adapt better - to invest in drought or flood resistant crops."

Australian lecturer in climate change research, Dr Alex Sen Gupta, has told the new model is "almost too good to be true".

"There's no real physics behind it," he said.

"At the moment they've found a pattern, but they're not really explaining where that pattern comes from.

"I think give it another two or three El Niños and if it predicts those correctly more than a year in advance you'd start to think we're on to something."

El Niño is Spanish for "the child", named after the baby Jesus because it often appeared off Peru around Christmas.

The pattern has been known to cause drought in some parts of Australia, Indonesia, and South America and heavy flooding in places like Peru and Ecuador.

It's also been linked to severe winters in Europe, unusual monsoons in East Asia and hurricanes in the Caribbean.


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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